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With Mali Music
it's possible at last to see how Damon Albarn
's foray into Africa has worked out: most members of what Albarn's friend Michael Nyman
has dubbed the "world-music police" would probably be happy to give it a qualified thumbs-up. If some of the "Western" tracks are little more than an undifferentiated blur (no pun intended), the echt-Malian ones are a delight.
But it's what lies between that's interesting: what Albarn and his colleagues Afel Bocoum, Toumani Diabate and Ko Kan Ko Sata Doumbia have achieved is best described as "the music of place". In "Kela Village" you can almost see the celebrations going on amid the chirruping of birds and the croaking of frogs; "Bamako City" comes with bags of local atmosphere.
This CD was constructed in layers--after Albarn had edited down his 40 hours of raw material, he created collages with new melodies and beats and then sent his tapes back to Mali, where extra vocals and instrumental work were added. We thus get music that actually feels layered: a typical track will start with a simple groove on kora or ngoni, then it will acquire a voice, then some electronic effects, and it will finally be enveloped in a seductive miasma of local atmosphere.
Apart from some nifty Malian balafon and string work, there's nothing here of instrumental note--Albarn's instrument is a battered melodica--but that doesn't matter, because in this game the final effect is the thing. Disregard Albarn's pretentious guff about this representing the "Africanisation of Western music"--where does the boy imagine jazz came from?--but do regard this CD as a healthy omen. --Michael Church